Three Communication Principles

Lessons

  • Be clear in your terminology. Default to simpler more direct wording.
  • Be concise. Try to remove as many words as you can from that email, and try to schedule half the time you think you'll need for your meeting.
  • Double check that all the recipients or invitees are necessary.

Miscommunication can be found at the source of most interpersonal problems and poor leadership. Here are three quick communication principles to help ensure that you're being heard and understood correctly:

Clear

Transparency and clarity is vital for getting the correct message across, especially in the world of increasing digital communication. Reread your email or take an extra second in conversation to ensure that you are being articulate. If you're trying to sound smart by using big words, stop. Your intelligence is actually better measured by your ability to communicate complex ideas in simplistic ways. A trick I use is assuming that I'm talking to a high school student. This forces me to err on the side of simpler, more accurate, and more articulate verbiage. This leaves little room for misinterpretation, and increases the chances the recipient will remember your message.

If you feel like you need to repeat concepts in different ways to ensure your point is understood, consider just simplifying the way you present it initially. This could also mean that you're not being direct enough, as is especially the case when providing tough feedback via email. Tough feedback can be hard to communicate electronically without having the recipient get defensive or misinterpreting your tone. Consider that this type of communication may be better received in person where misunderstandings can be quickly clarified.

Consider the background of your audience as well. It is often too easy to use terminology that is industry specific. I have seen this many times when business people try communicating with technical people, or creative types try communicating with analytical types. Default to terminology that is industry agnostic. Even if it feels weird to you, you'll be doing everyone a favor by not having to repeat yourself.

Don't assume people will ask you to clarify. The recipient(s) may be embarrassed that they didn't follow along perfectly, especially if it's in a group setting. Always encourage your audience to follow up with you if they would like clarification. It can be helpful to offer an alternative medium. For example, if it's an email, offer to talk in person. If you're in person, offer to follow up with notes in email form.

 

Concise

Time is increasingly precious these days, and attention is hard to keep. Even if it weren't, there's no arguing that shorter messages are easier to understand and remember.

If you're writing an email, do a final review before you hit send to see if you can cut the length. Try to cut repetitive messaging. Messaging that is repetitive is unnecessary, and should be removed. See? It's annoying.

I try to limit most of my emails to 250 words, and I find that most messages can be communicated easily enough at that length. If my email needs to be longer than that I will generally include a TLDR (Too Long, Didn't Read) section at the top. This is also the reason I include a "Lessons" section at the top of all my articles. Everything after those sections is explanation and elaboration if people want to take the time to read it.

If you're holding a meeting, schedule half the time you initially think you'll need and keep the discussion focused. Parkinson's law states: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." What you think you'll need an hour for, probably only requires thirty minutes, etc. The most common killer of time-boxed meetings is conversation that is too detailed for the meeting's purpose. Recognize when the conversation deviates away from the goal of the meeting and bring it back home. "Great conversation, but let's table it until after we finish." Is a statement I have used thousands of times, and it's an easy way to break the downward spiral that so often happens.

The only exception to this half-time rule is training sessions. But then, you should take the time to outline an agenda, practice to ensure that's the time you need, and leave a specific block of time for questions to ensure efficiency.

You might like to hear yourself talk, or read what you write, but don't assume others do :)

 

Necessary

Make sure that what you're communicating is necessary. Don't contribute to the plethora of irrelevant emails that hit everyones inboxes on a daily basis. What is the purpose of your email or meeting? Are you just complaining? Is it an FYI? Before you hit send, or schedule something, reconsider whether you're adding value or just noise to people's days. I'm sure you think it's valuable, but consider your recipients' perspective and make sure it's something that they will be able to get value out of. 

If it is, make sure that all of your recipients are necessary. Are you inviting the entire marketing team to a meeting? Maybe you just need a representative from the marketing team. If you know you don't need everyone, but aren't sure which person you do need, ask. A quick question instead of another 30 minute meeting will keep everyone happy. Are you sending an email to the entire engineering organization? Maybe it's only applicable to three of the four teams. Don't be lazy, take the time to remove the people that aren't relevant.

 

Clear, concise, and necessary are three easy communication principles that will help ensure that you and your message are taken seriously and are well understood. Bad communicators get a bad reputation. Don't be the manager that schedules a meeting for everything. Be the manager that is always giving people time back and freeing up schedules. Take an extra second out of your day to make sure your communication is meeting these three standards: clear, concise, and necessary. 

 

Lead Happy!